A determined Jake Martin carried the ball to the top of the Revere defense.
The Lowell Catholic sophomore took two steps left and dodged a pair of defenders, but challenged by another, the 5-foot-10, 215-pound midfielder tilted his shoulder downward to send the defenseman falling backward to the ground.
Then he finished off his charge, firing a shot that hummed into the back of the net, his fourth goal of the game, in a 5-1 victory last week.
Martin, like the rest of his teammates, is playing lacrosse for the first time this spring for a new varsity program. And also, like many of his teammates, he is utilizing the athletic skills developed in another sport, in his case, as a hard-hitting linebacker for the Crusader football team. His aggressiveness has also proven costly at times, when he has finished the game on the sideline because of excessive penalty minutes.
Four months ago, a varsity boys’ program at Lowell Catholic became a reality. The question was not whether there was enough interest for the team, but whether there were any candidates who had any playing experience.
The answer: mostly no. But under the direction of former Billerica High standout Andrew Thompson , the Crusaders have shown progress while experiencing the expected growing pains. Lowell Catholic is 4-10 overall, registering all their wins against other first-year programs.
“The kids wanted the program and they had been pushing it since the fall,” said Thompson, who played two seasons collegiately at Lasell College in Newton.
“The hardest part was that not all of the guys have had experience playing lacrosse, but we had some real athletic kids come out for the team and we’re getting better and better each game.”
The Crusaders have generated interest from various athletes: hockey standout Dan Curran , a junior who has transitioned from goalie on the ice to the field, along with junior Joey Tyner , who led the Crusaders’ soccer team in the fall.
Curran picked up a goalie stick upon hearing that a lacrosse team had been created.
“When you’re a first-year team and you’re constantly working hard and everyone around you is working hard, when you lose a game, it’s OK, because you learn something new,” said Tyner. “From the experience, you’re a better team, a better teammate, and you gain the mindset that you can always improve.”
The highlight of the season, according to Curran, was an 8-3 victory over another first-year team, Greater Lowell Technical High School, on May 2.
“The Greater Lowell game was definitely the best game of the season, because after the game, we realized how much we had improved over the year,” said Curran.
And moving forward, Thompson, likes what he sees for the future of the program.
“These are a great group of kids,” said the coach. “There’s no fighting, they work together, and there’s a lot of learning that brings them closer together.
“We have a kid from South Korea, and from Spain, who are kids that understand English as a second language picking up a lacrosse stick, so there’s definitely a lot of learning going on. We had 28 kids on the first day of practice and 31 by the end of the week, so there will definitely be more interest as time goes on.”
Although his Greater Lowell squad started the season 2-10, coach Paul Feeney likes the enthusiasm of his players.
“I wrote the proposals for both the boys’ and girls’ teams and the kids were behind it all the way,” said Feeney.
“The kids wanted to know why there were youth programs, where they were from, but no high school team. So we decided it was time to push for the program.”
Like Lowell Catholic, Greater Lowell had numerous athletes who were new to lacrosse but were ready for a new competitive outlet.
“We took three kids from the football team who didn’t know what lacrosse was and needed to teach the basics to those who didn’t know how to catch and throw,” said Feeney.
“We also had kids who knew the basics already, so we needed to keep them interested, even if they needed to take an inexperienced kid on their back and show them the ropes.”
And Feeney saw the progression in full form when Greater Lowell edged Lynn Vocational, 14-11.
“That win got our kids fired up,” said Feeney. “They were a good, playoff-caliber team and it was just nice to see the progression and the passion they had. It was cool.”
Methuen, Revere, and Pope John of Everett, are also fielding varsity programs for the first time.
The Methuen Rangers are 4-11 in the the competitive Merrimack Valley Conference, but coach Ed Brandt says that the tough competition will ultimately serve his team well.
“The conference we are in has tremendous, athletic teams who really make you work game in and game out,” said Brandt. “But the process is a multiyear one, because you won’t have a ton of wins your first year, even though you have high expectations. You need to keep working, keep building and get better each day.”
Brandt encourages lacrosse players to be involved with as many sports as possible to promote overall athleticism.
“Lacrosse is a sport of athleticism,” said the coach. “The more things you can do, whether it be speed, power or stick skills, it takes tremendous athleticism to be a successful lacrosse player.”
The debut of the five new programs reflects the continuing growth of sport that has nearly doubled in participation in the state over the last decade. In 2002, according to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, there were 106 varsity boys’ teams in Massachusetts; last year there were 191.
“Lacrosse is becoming a growing sport across the board, especially in youth programs,” said Brandt. “There’s a lot of schools who don’t have it that will look at the sport and see the ways the sport can improve the student body. It provides tremendous opportunities for student athletes of any level.”
Details pay off
for Ipswich girls
As the regular season winds down, Ipswich girls (10-2) are playing with confidence, averaging eight goals per game.
“They’ve been playing smart lacrosse, figuring out opponents’ weaknesses and strengths, and we pick apart their game when we have a timeout and such,” said coach Greg Churchill . “We’re taking better quality shots and the teamwork and chemistry has gone up as well, which is key.”
The Tigers lost a double-overtime thriller to Cape Ann foe Masconomet on April 12, but won seven of their next eight games.
But in order to make a solid postseason run, Ipswich will need to play with consistency.
“The offense has pulled it together and we have some seasoned veterans who are certainly taking charge in leadership roles,” said the coach. “But smart lacrosse and draw controls will continue to be the important things that we need to step up and do if we want to make a strong run.”
Here and there
Sophomore Jay Drapeau netted his 80th season goal as the Westford Academy boys defeated Dual County League foe Newton South, 14-8.